The next stage of evolution

LOOKING BEYOND Madhavi Mudgal in New Delhi

LOOKING BEYOND Madhavi Mudgal in New Delhi   | Photo Credit: V. Sudershan


Nurtured on the oral tradition of classical arts, seasoned Odissi exponent Madhavi Mudgal talks about electronic archiving of her choreographies

Demure in her demeanour, fragile in frame and features, Madhavi Mudgal comes across as a sweet and simple hostess to anyone who enters her threshold. Beneath this veneer is a serious dancer who as the Sanskrit saying goes ‘manasa, vaacha, karmana’ has dedicated her life to Odissi dance. The otherwise private person who goes on stage only to dance has recently come into public gaze with the release of dance DVDs which in her own words, “are a collection of my choreographies — both solo and group —over the last 30 years of my dance life, my assets to be passed on to my students, the next generation.”

Her biggest worry is dilution and distortion of classical art form for lack of proper, genuine work asset to fall back upon for the future set of dancers. “In the name of Loka dharma normal daily movements are passing off as dance. Superficial knowledge is dangerous. Unless a movement is refined and presented in a suggestive manner and not grotesque, it cannot have the Loka dharma sanction. Dilution in classicality and the impetus to do something different comes only when the artiste is not deeply ingrained into a particular style of classical dance. Shallow knowledge cannot sustain, hence it looks for diversions. This is also one reason for my bringing out my choreographies.”

Madhavi Mudgal

Madhavi Mudgal   | Photo Credit: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

The reason for wanting to come out now with an electronic version of her entire set of work is not far to seek. “I have been nurtured on totally different principles of learning in the ancient mode of oral tradition where we imbibe into memory during constant and continuous process of learning and finally become capable of performing the same with confidence. It’s entirely a guru-oriented system; years and years of being moulded by the guru transforms us into creative artistes. I don’t remember every writing down the theory in book or piece of paper, it was all getting stored in the head and being repeatedly practised day in and day out it got into the blood stream,” she taps her head and continues, “but now, lifestyles have undergone a sea change. Pupils, though talented, still have lots of other things too to pursue to make their lives, all of which require equal concentration and commitment. And further, I was looking at a very harsh but undeniable truth: where are those great masters today? They have given their everything in art to us, their disciples and disappeared from life! This is inevitable to the best of gurus and then the work of their lifetime might be carried forward by the next generation if at all. What will happen after that? Oral tradition may be disrupted, deviated or forgotten because it no longer flows the way it did in past ages. Though I was reluctant initially, I had a few well-wishers telling me to preserve my work for the future generation learners of the form as it was taught by my great master Kelucharan Mohapatra. I felt the need to archive my works in the present day circumstances as never before. It is a gift to my students and future dancers.”

‘A traditionalist’

She firmly believes in classicism and guru-sishya parampara. “I am a traditionalist. Dance has to be learnt through guru mukha (personal interaction) for it doesn’t just involve teaching the technique of dance. Along with it the guru transfers our age-old culture based on spirituality — these are called samskaras (cultural values). They go a long way in shaping the personality and character of the sishya. These are integral to Indian art forms like dance which are spiritual in nature. Short-cut methods like workshops and technology/ video learning are not alternatives to traditional learning. I may sound outdated but then this is how I am made,” she says with a wry smile.

How does her set of choreographies differ from that of her guru’s since she is a strict follower of tradition? “Whatever I have choreographed comes from him (Kelubabu). He gave me that vision to see and create, not just me; to all those of us who learnt under him. These are mine in the sense, the choreographies are my original creations not distorted or xerox versions of guruji’s works. My DVDs are historical perceptions showing the different streams of the main river. Guruji is the fountainhead and we are his various streams — that is how I like to see myself and my work. My brother Madhup Mudgal and me together, despite our idealogical differences (she laughs) have created these with ample emphasis on music (swar, laya, taal) which I believe is integral to dance. I strictly believe in classical music instruments; the naad that comes out of them cannot be substituted by electronic musical gadget. I have used real tanpuras (not electronic ones) in these DVDs. Cinematographer Diwakar Mani gave it the aesthetic touch with his elite photography. The two full length discs are of 3 hours 20 minutes duration and are available at Gandharv Mahavidyalaya, Delhi as also on Amazon. Since it is not a commercial venture, I haven’t entered the market so to say. But there is no way I can stop plagiarism if anyone infringes on my dance albums,” she admits to the possibility of such misdeeds if choreographies are made public despite copyrights in place.

The DVDs encapsulate mostly solos and eleven group choreographies. They are unique pieces like Ranga Stuti (praise of the stage), Vadya Vaividya , Teevra Madhyam (where Chaturasra is done to Chowka ) and the notes land on Madhyam where music has been given equal importance as dance. Her interest in music and her keen sense of swar and taal stem from her being the daughter of the famed Hindustani classical musician Pandit Vinay Chandra Maudgalya who founded the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya school of music and dance way back in 1939. “At first I learnt Bharatanatyam, then Kathak and finally I was taken in by the fluidity of Odissi and decided that it was my art form. Guruji used to come to the Vidyalaya or else I would go to Cuttack to learn from him.”

Guru Ratikant Mohapatra

Guru Ratikant Mohapatra  

Guru Ratikant Mohapatra on Madhavi Mudgal: I have known Madhavi appa (sister) since my childhood and I have grown up seeing her learn and perform with Guruji (my father). She is a complete artiste; there are very few artistes who can stand up to her in art. In her, you find not just dance but entire gamut of art- from aesthetics to laya to taal to swar. On the death of my father, the great scholar Pratibha Ray wrote that he was a ‘Gandharva sent by the devas in heaven to sojourn on earth.’ If that is so, well that Gandharv has left his reflection in Madhavi appa. In her, we can see guruji in his true form.

‘An all-pervading vision’

Madhavi Mudgal on her guru Kelucharan Mohapatra:

I was one of his earliest students in and was very fortunate to be learning under him for, just then a renaissance had begun in Odissi dance and guruji was its architect. It’s an understatement to simply say he is a great guru. He was a perfection personified in every aspect of human life. On the dance front, nothing could go unnoticed; not even the alta on our feet or the bindi on our forehead could escape his gaze! Line and form had to be scrupulously perfect. He was himself an all-in-all: a master of rhythm (pakhawaz), a drama artiste (at Annapurna studios), a Patachitrakar (by virtue of being born in that family) — hence an all-pervading vision. Whenever he accompanied me on my shows abroad in France, he would do a solo and the likes of Pinabautch and Maurice Bejart would make it a point to be present at the theatre to watch him dance, the former travelling all the way from Germany. Once we had a show at Kalakshetra where guruji did the Ashtapadi-Pashchayti dishi dishi... in front of Rukmini Arundale. I quote her: ‘if I were a 16-year-old, I would learn from Kelubabu...’ she declared in utter joy.”

Kelucharan Mohapatra

Kelucharan Mohapatra  

There was one incident which got etched in my memory and can jerk tears even now. Pandit Jasraj had produced Gita Govindam in Hindi and I was to play Krsna while another dancer was Radha in Mumbai. We were ready to go on stage, dressed to the hilt when Guruji came up to us, saw us with searching eyes and suddenly fell at our feet! I was stupefied and tears welled up since we were mere juniors compared to this great doyen of Odissi . But to him who is an artiste to the core- we were Radha and Krsna personified. He looked beyond our human existence. Humility was his greatest virtue no matter how high he reached. He was a realised soul to whom distinctions of poor and rich, fame and name didn’t matter. Odissi and propagation of Odissi was his life’s sole purpose. If we his students are what we are today with our standing, we owe it to none but him. My next step is to archive guruji’s dance productions as taught to me at that point of time.

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Printable version | Nov 22, 2019 8:08:56 PM |

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